Ai: A bird needs to flutter its wings to see if it can fly
After nearly two months of silence, artist Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most prominent human rights activists, is back in the spotlight. Over the past few days he’s been tweeting, and today an exclusive for one of China’s state-owned newspapers, the English-language Global Times. It is Ai’s first interview since he was released from detention back in June.
His tweets first. On Monday Ai wrote about the condition of two of his associates who were arrested alongside him in April:
Today I met Liu Zhenggang. He talked about the detention for the first time … This steel-willed man had tears coming down … He had a sudden heart attack at the detention center and almost died.
Because of the connection with me, they were illegally detained. Liu Zhenggang, Hu Mingfen, Wen Tao and Zhang Jinsong innocently suffered immense mental devastation and physical torment.
Ai told The Guardian that Liu had almost died from maltreatment in detention.
On Tuesday he tweeted again:
If you don’t speak for Wang Lihong, and don’t speak for Ran Yunfei, you are not just a person who will not stand out for fairness and justice; you do not have self-respect.
Wang Lihong is an internet activist who is facing trial for “causing a disturbance” last year when she helped organise a small demonstration outside a court to support three bloggers who had tried help an illiterate woman find justice after her daughter died.
Ran Yunfei, a writer and magazine editor was arrested in March, allegedly for his anti-government writings. He was released today, though he is reportedly not allowed to leave home or meet people without permission, and may not speak publicly.
Ai told CNN that he has started to tweet because “a bird needs to flutter its wings to see if it can fly.”
The Global Times’ exclusive with Ai has him photographed in shorts, presumably at his studio in east Beijing, posing with a small cat. He was “relaxed” and “flirtatious,” the journalist curiously noted.
While the newspaper boasts that Ai gave a “feisty” interview, his comments sound more like government directives than the characteristically outspoken Ai. He confirmed separately with Western media that he did indeed give the interview.
For a start there’s this:
Overthrowing the regime through a radical revolution is not the way to solve China’s problems. “The most important thing is a scientific and democratic political system.
Later he concedes, “no one is above the law.”
However, a few Ai-like quotes remain. “I will never stop fighting injustice,” he says at one point. Curiously, Wen Tao, Ai’s associate who was arrested with him in April, is a former Global Times journalist. Ai was released in June on charges of tax evasion. His supporters say the accusations have been cooked up and his arrest was in fact linked to his outspoken criticism of the government.